What difference can one man or one woman make? Quite a bit if that man or woman embodies certain ideals that empower others. Take the story of Christopher Levi of Holbrook and Mineola resident Bill Urianek.
For Levi, it is his courage to serve his country in a time of war and his fighting spirit that inspires others such as friends and family including his younger sister Emily, and Urianek, whose generosity and compassion, inspired others to give to a worthy cause.
Levi, a 25-year-old Army Ranger who joined the service after September 11, 2001, was serving in Iraq on March 16 when a bomb exploded, hitting the Humvee he was riding in. Levi wound up losing both of his legs and sustaining serious damage to his right arm.
Levi, who also served a tour of duty in Afghanistan, was fitted with artificial legs and he still needs numerous surgeries on his right hand. He is rehabilitating in Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington D.C. while his family's home undergoes renovations to make it handicapped-accessible for his return home.
When fundraising efforts began to defray the cost of renovating the Levi home, Urianek read an article about Levi in the Suffolk Times. The 78-year-old Urianek, who served in the Marines during the Korean War, immediately thought about his grandson being around the same age as Levi. Urianek knew he had to try to help the young veteran.
Over the summer, Urianek began collecting bottles and cans, which he redeemed at a local King Kullen. His goal was to collect 10,000 bottles and cans, which would translate into $500. But Urianek tapped into the big heart that the community of Mineola has and began receiving cash donations, check donations, and, of course, bottles and cans he picked up from homes and had dropped off at his home on Emory Road. He received help from others and pretty soon the amount of the eventual donation, known as the Christopher Levi fund, began to mount. Urianek even received an anonymous donation of five $100 bills in his mailbox, which, to this day, doesn't know who left them.
Urianek wound up turning 30,820 bottles and cans for $1,541; received cash contributions totaling $3,782 and check contributions totaling $2,620. Urianek raised a total of $7,943. He even lovingly was named the "Can Man" from the Levi family.
"I just can't thank everybody enough," said Urianek.
At last Wednesday Village of Mineola Board of Trustees meeting, Levi's mother Debbie and sister Emily visiting village hall, where Urianek presented her with the money.
Debbie Levi said her son is doing well. "I always knew he was going to [go into the service] because he was always that kind of child. Obviously, I didn't want him in harm's way, but I'm incredibly proud that he went and still proud. He says he would go back again. The way he says it is the Army issued him a new pair of legs and it's his job to use them," she said. "He's the same but even funnier if that's possible. You just light up when he's around. He's jokester."
Chris Levi has inspired his friends and family members because of bravery and resiliency. "I work harder in dedication to him," said 14-year-old sister Emily, a high school freshman.
Debbie Levi said that her son still needs multiple surgeries on his right hand and hopes that her son will be able to come home
Urianek wants to thank all those who helped in the cause. He still has trouble believing all of the generosity he has witnessed from within Mineola and also from other communities. For Urianek, who said he would continue to collect bottles and cans, there's one more important thing to do and that's meet Chris Levi. Debbie Levi hopes to have her son home and the end of December or early January.